Andy Mossack visits Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi and thinks it might well be the best proper all-inclusive resort he’s ever experienced.
The phrase all-inclusive has become mightily abused since its inception into the hospitality industry. The details are always in the small print it seems. ‘All-inclusive is only at mealtimes and includes just soft drinks’ is one example, or you might have an all-inclusive package that is broken down into bronze, silver and gold packages – no guessing which one is the least restrictive. Then again there is the minibar issue, or premium drinks, activities, and room service. The list goes on. I remember a luxury cruise line which boldly proclaimed in its advertising, “on our cruises you can leave your credit card behind.” Naturally, I was keen to see if the boast was true. It was – almost. Even this bold proclamation had a few strings attached.
The concept of all-inclusive is brand-new to the well-heeled denizens of the UAE, but it’s a well-oiled concept with Rixos, a luxury Turkish brand, now part of Accor, who honed and polished it in Antalya, the home of all-inclusive resorts. So, I arrived on Saadiyat Island, at the doorstep to Rixos Premium, with more than a little cynicism. Was this going to be another all-inclusive with conditions?
Saadiyat Island is one of the latest development projects underway in Abu Dhabi. Joined to the mainland by bridges, it’s a natural island blessed with beautiful white sandy beaches and it’s likely it will become the centre of culture and entertainment for the UAE. Eight serious museums are planned, with one of them, the Louvre no less, already open. The Zayed National Museum of the UAE is due to open 2021 while the Mangrove Boardwalk, a nature reserve of indigenous mangroves and wildlife, spanning Saadiyat and Yaz Islands, opened in January.
The Rixos all-inclusive all-exclusive concept leaves you in no doubt as to what you are in for as soon as you arrive. This is a vast beachside property purpose-built with exotic Arabian accents to keep its guests cossetted and pampered throughout their stay. Plenty of quality food and drink on tap through multiple outlets, plenty of activities and entertainment and outstanding accommodation, all backed up by attention to detail and faultless service. It’s family-friendly too with the Rixy Club’s qualified team looking after kids aged 4 -12 from 10 am right through to 11 pm. They have their own timetable of activities and an aqua park, huge wave pool and beach area. All included of course.
My room was a deluxe sea view; seriously spacious with a king bed covered in high thread linens, a pair of ottomans at the foot of the bed, a huge flat-screen TV and plenty of wardrobe space. A sliding panel revealed a free-standing bath, a rain forest shower cubicle and a pair of circular green glass sinks embraced by a clutch of high-end toiletries.
Back in the main room, the espresso machine was perched atop a fully stocked mini-bar (all included of course) and looked pleadingly at me to insert a pod. It seemed like the decent thing to do, so I took a coffee out onto to the wide terrace for a very civilized few minutes gazing out at the Arabian Gulf. There are three categories of same size main accommodation; garden view, sea view and pool access, while the suites come double the size – some with private pools. There are also some very impressive three-and four-bedroom luxury villas all with private gardens and a shared pool. The villas come with additional VIP privileges including a 24-hour butler, exclusive club lounge for dining, the use of a club car, free airport transfers and a free laundry service.
At the heart of the resort lies the main pool and beach so it made sense for me to try out both. The loungers around the pool were the right kind; proper beds you could easily sink into and relax. The pool team glided around on roller skates bringing me drinks and snacks whenever I felt like it. I loved that. I also fell in love with loungers semi-submerged in the pool for the ultimate way to keep cool and get a tan. The private beach was at the end of a raised boardwalk, protecting the dune habitat from erosion. Just like the pool area, there were teams to bring towels, drinks and snacks to your bed. There was something very decadent about sipping a drink and chomping on a chilled fruit kebab to the sound of breaking surf.
Then again, if keeping active is your chosen path to righteousness there’s a whole programme of sport, gym and wellness activities to choose, from yoga and Pilates to stand up boarding, spinning and tennis, with personal coaches on hand to help if needed. The very impressive Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is just minutes away, but not included in the all-inclusive package. Talking of wellness, the Anjana spa was a haven of tranquillity and the Turkish hammam sauna and steam came in very handy. There was also a snow room, just in case, I felt the need for a short sharp shock. Treatments are not part of the all-inclusive offer, which is to be expected, but a trained team of therapists were on hand offering a full menu to keep yin and yang perfectly aligned.
This was all going perfectly to plan. No surprises, no hidden catches, it was all so impressive my cynicism was sliding away and I felt myself falling under Rixos’ s spell.
But the main act was up next. The food and drink. How would that pan out?
There are six restaurants dotted about the resort, practically one for every day of the week and far enough apart to let you burn off more than a few calories before you arrive. I would label this “land cruising” as they pretty much mirror the kind of dining you find on luxury cruises. Turquoise is the main all-day dining buffet restaurant; breakfast, lunch, dinner and even a midnight buffet. Relaxed inside and outside dining with an excellent selection of wines. There is a vast number of stations offering everything from Middle Eastern classics to fresh curries, salads, seafood and everything else in-between. All freshly prepared, the work surfaces spotless. On my first breakfast morning, not seeing any avocados on display, I asked my waiter for one.
“Peeled or whole Mr Mossack?”
From that day on a peeled avocado was sent to my table each morning as soon as they saw me walk in. That was very impressive.
The People’s Restaurant is the go-to for pool and beach folk open midday to 4 pm. Extremely relaxed a la carte beachwear dining. I had some very enjoyable lunches washed down with a few glasses of excellent chilled sauvignon blanc.
After dark, the four fine-dining restaurants open up from 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm and all require table reservations in advance and, inexplicably, a cover fee of AED 50 (c £10.50) per person. L’Olivo is an authentic Italian eatery offering pizza, pasta and excellent regional Italian specialities.
Orient perched high up on the sixth floor is unashamedly Turkish – a celebration of Rixos roots and understandably authentic; from the music to the lavish hot and cold mezze feast which comes as standard. Set close to the beach, you’ll not be surprised to find Mermaid is for lovers of Mediterranean fish and seafood. However, the pride of place for me was Aja Asian, an absolutely epic feast of Japanese cuisine beautifully prepared and presented by a brigade of Japanese chefs.
From sushi and sashimi to teriyaki steaks my whole meal was a total triumph. Alternatively, each night (for an AED 100 supplement) you can reserve a tableside live Teppanyaki show which is the Japanese food equivalent of cocktail mixologists doing their bottle gymnastics.
There are two more bars to mention where I took the opportunity to test out just what spirits and wines came under the all-inclusive plan. The very amiable roof bar seemed to be the local hangout for post-meeting chilling, while the lobby lounge bar was the ultimate meeting place to see and be seen. Open from 8 am until 2 am I found myself wandering in for tea and coffee and later for one or two single malts including Johnny Walker Blue Label no less. There was also a shisha lounge on the beach lounge level which carried a supplement (just for the shisha).
In fact, I can report that in total there were over 260 international brands available in the plan including Hendrick’s Gin and 16-year-old Lagavulin whiskey. A remarkable achievement.
The sheer volume of quality food and drink on tap would tempt even the most hardened all-inclusive cynics. But Rixos goes much further. The kids club is a stroke of genius. Giving the kids so much space and supervised freedom and leaving the grownups to relax and chill is a sure-fire way to appeal to families. There is nightly entertainment and a late-night DJ for the clubbers.
As I left Rixos for Abu Dhabi airport less than 20 minutes away, I came away thinking that, finally, I had found somewhere where all-inclusive meant just that. Almost. It was that close. The sheer weight of what was included at Rixos Premium Resort, Saadiyat Island is practically overwhelming. Faultless really. Just the puzzling nominal fee for table reservations took a point off an otherwise perfect 10!
Food and pool loungers shots (C) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island
Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates T:+971 2 492 2222
The all-inclusive package as described above. Deluxe room 2 people sharing from AED 1,250 per night (c £260), Executive Villa (3 bedrooms, 6 people) from AED 7,000 per night (c £1,400)